The year of national celebrations to mark another of Elizabeth II’s many landmarks, her 90th birthday, hasn’t got off to an encouraging start. When I first heard of it, I assumed that the Clean for the Queen campaign was either a predictably ill-thought out scheme from some cloistered imbecile at Buck House or a novel approach to recruiting ancillary palace staff.
But no. True to the old cliché that you only hurt the ones you love, it seems to have nothing to do with Elizabeth Windsor herself, or her advisers, but has been in fact launched by some of the browniest-nosed sycophants anywhere to be found in Her Majesty’s still extensive realms and territories. Yes, we’re talking Country Life (the magazine, not the butter) here, sponsored by – and this does venture beyond parody – Greggs, McDonald’s, Wrigley, Costa and KFC who, let’s face it, should know a thing or two about litter and the despoilation of the nation’s high streets.
The reaction on social media among the Queen’s subjects has been somewhat indignant. There’s quite a lot about the Queen not paying her own cleaners the minimum wage, despite being dead rich, and many a plea to employ more local council street cleaners and parkies, rather pointedly, but a good deal too of enjoyable class-based bile has invaded the #CleanForTheQueen Twitter feed. Take this, for example, from Limmy(@DaftLimmy); “How’s about I clean my arse with toilet paper and send her the proof” (though I suspect that particular method of protest may already have been tried a few times during her 63-year reign, my dear Daft Limmy).
Or this more considered argument from pro-democracy anti-monarchy group Republic: “Instead of CleanForTheQueen, we should clean up our democracy, ridding it of its hereditary and unelected positions once and for all.” A bit po-faced maybe, but full marks for seizing the opportunity. Alternative national treasure Kathy Burke sums up the feelings of many with “Fuck off”, as well as retweeting that one campaign charity sponsor has been criticised for making donations to the Tory party.
Well meaning as it is, the clean-up campaign seems to have got tangled up in the brambles of a vague government plan, via Keep Britain Tidy, to “do something” about litter, with a trailed proposal to increase the fines for littering to £150. Which is just as likely to fail because our litter laws, like those against child abuse and the interception of telecommunications, are rarely enforced by the authorities.
I note also that they are encouraging members of the public to confront litter droppers with polite requests such as “Did you mean to drop this?”, which will, in many cases, lead to a tidily delivered punch in the gob and trip to A&E, adding to the pressure on our NHS.
As I say, it is turning into a very messy business, this Clean for the Queen campaign, and I would advise anyone associated with it to discard it as fast as possible. It should be dropped with the same insouciance that many of our fellow citizens, of all classes, backgrounds and walks of life, would deposit the unwanted portion of a Big Mac on the floor of a shopping mall.
Surely one figurehead is as good as any other?
A happier aspect of the Queen’s 90th year is that it inadvertently proves a much more important point; the monarchy really doesn’t matter that much. Imagine, for example, that your GP, your dentist or your postie had mentioned that they would be 90 next April and, while throttling back a bit, intend to continue doing the job until ... whenever. You might be a bit disturbed, for their sake as much as your own.
But given that the monarchy is entirely symbolic and ceremonial, rather than functional, you may as well have the Queen doing it as the Prince of Wales, or Prince William, say. If the Queen does keep going as long as her mum – who got to 101 – then Prince Charles will be knocking on 80 by the time he gets to have his face on the stamps. Prince William, at a guess, will be well into middle age when he becomes William V, and his son, George VII, might be around 50 on accession. To which the sensible response is: so what?
Provided they don’t start trying to mess around in politics, behave themselves in their private lives and don’t make stupid comments about nurses needing to be more caring, then they won’t have to worry about money or much else for the rest of their lives. Maybe I’ll not push that argument any further, though.
Time for the truth behind the romance of the century
An anniversary with much more potential for mischief next year is the 80th anniversary of the abdication crisis, when the Queen’s uncle Edward VIII gave up his throne for Mrs Simpson. The story of the “romance of the century” has been told many times, but still has the ability to enthral and appal in equal measure. The footage of him encouraging a young Princess Elizabeth to give the Hitler greeting salute in a home movie, circa 1933, reminds us, again, that the hereditary principle can throw up some duffers as well as diamonds. That was certainly the most embarrassing video of the Queen yet (apart from that grainy sex tape on YouTube, oops did I start an urban myth there?)
Anyway, all those who had anything to with that unfortunate business in 1936 have long gone. We’ve a right to know if the old boy really was a Nazi sympathiser, and it is beyond time that all the relevant papers, many still classified top secret until 2036, be published in full. If the Queen does that then I will gladly pick up the next Greggs wrapper or KFC carton I find on the pavement. Deal?
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